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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 17, 2003 - Issue 87


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Autobiography of Black Hawk
Part 2

Dictated to himself with Antoine LeClair, U.S. Interpreter and J. B. Patterson, Editor and Amanuensis, Rock Island, Illinois, 1833
credits: submitted by Timm Severud (Ondamitag)

     Determined on the final and complete extermination of the dastardly Osages, in punishment for the injuries our people had received from them, I commenced recruiting a strong force, immediately on my return, and started in the third moon, with five hundred Sacs and Foxes, and One hundred Iowas, and marched against the enemy. We continued our march for many days before we came upon their trail, which was discovered late in the day. We encamped for the night, made an early start next morning, and before sundown we fell upon forty lodges, killed all the inhabitants except two squaws, whom I took as prisoners. During this engagement I killed seven men and two boys with my own hands. In this battle many of the bravest warriors among the Osages were killed, which caused those who yet remained of their nation to keep within the boundaries of their own land and cease their aggressions upon our hunting grounds.

     The loss of my father, by the Cherokees, made me anxious to avenge his death by the utter annihilation, if possible, of the last remnant of their tribe. I accordingly commenced collecting another party to go against them. Having succeeded in this, I started with my braves and went into their country, but I found only five of their people, whom I took prisoners. I afterwards released four of them, the other, a young squaw, we brought home. Great as was my hatred of these people, I could not kill so small a party.

     About the close of the ninth moon, I led a large party against the Chippewas, Kaskaskias and Osages. This was the commencement of a long and arduous campaign, which terminated in my thirty-fifth year, after having had seven regular engagements and numerous small skirmishes. During this campaign several hundred of the enemy were slain. I killed thirteen of their bravest warriors with my own hands.

     Our enemies having now been driven from our hunting grounds, with so great a loss as they sustained, we returned in peace to our village. After the seasons of mourning and burying our dead braves and of feasting and dancing had passed, we commenced preparations for our winter's hunt. When all was ready we started on the chase and returned richly laden with the fruits of the hunter's toil.

     We usually paid a visit to St. Louis every summer, but in consequence of the long protracted war in which we had been engaged, I had not been there for some years.

     Our difficulties all having been settled, I concluded to take a small party and go down to see our Spanish father during the summer. We went, and on our arrival put up our lodges where the market house now stands. After painting and dressing we called to see our Spanish father and were kindly received. He gave us a great variety of presents and an abundance of provisions. We danced through the town as usual, and the inhabitants all seemed well pleased. They seemed to us like brothers, and always gave us good advice. On my next and last visit to our Spanish father, I discovered on landing, that all was not right. Every countenance seemed sad and gloomy. I inquired the cause and was informed that the Americans were coming to take possession of the town and country, and that we were to lose our Spanish father. This news made me and my band exceedingly sad, because we had always heard bad accounts of the Americans from the Indians who had lived near them. We were very sorry to lose our Spanish father, who had always treated us with great friendship.

     A few days afterwards the Americans arrived. I, in company with my band, went to take leave for the last time of our father. The Americans came to see him also. Seeing their approach, we passed out at one door as they came in at another. We immediately embarked in our canoes for our village on Rock River, not liking the change any more than our friends at St. Louis appeared to.

     On arriving at our village we gave out the news that a strange people had taken possession of St. Louis and that we should never see our generous Spanish father again. This information cast a deep gloom over our people.

     Sometime afterwards a boat came up the river with a young American chief, at that time Lieutenant, and afterwards General Pike, and a small party of soldiers aboard. The boat at length arrived at Rock River and the young chief came on shore with his interpreter. He made us a speech and gave us some presents, in return for which we gave him meat and such other provisions as we could spare.

     We were well pleased with the speech of the young chief. He gave us good advice and said our American father would treat us well. He presented us an American flag, which we hoisted. He then requested us to lower the British colors, which were waving in the air, and to give him our British medals, promising to send us others on his return to St. Louis. This we declined to do as we wished to have two fathers.

     When the young chief started we sent runners to the village of the Foxes, some miles distant, to direct them to treat him well as he passed, which they did. He went to the head of the Mississippi and then returned to St. Louis. We did not see any Americans again for some time, being supplied with goods by British traders.

     We were fortunate in not giving up our medals, for we learned afterwards, from our traders, that the chiefs high up the Mississippi, who gave theirs, never received any in exchange for them. But the fault was not with the young American chief. He was a good man, a great brave, and I have since learned, died in his country's service.

     Some moons after this young chief had descended the Mississippi; one of our people killed an American, was taken prisoner and was confined in the prison at St. Louis for the offence. We held a council at our village to see what could be done for him, and determined that Quashquame, Pashepaho, Ouchequaka and Hashequarhiqua should go down to St. Louis, see our American father and do all they could to have our friend released by paying for the person killed, thus covering the blood and satisfying the relations of the murdered man. This being the only means with us for saving a person who had killed another, and we then thought it was the same way with the whites.

     The party started with the good wishes of the whole nation, who had high hopes that the emissaries would accomplish the object of their mission. The relations of the prisoner blacked their faces and fasted, hoping the Great Spirit would take pity on them and return husband and father to his sorrowing wife and weeping children.

     Quashquame and party remained a long time absent. They at length returned and encamped near the village, a short distance below it, and did not come up that day, nor did any one approach their camp. They appeared to be dressed in fine coats and had medals. From these circumstances we were in hopes that they had brought good news. Early the next morning the Council Lodge was crowded, Quashquame and party came up and gave us the following account of their mission:

     "On our arrival at St. Louis we met our American father and explained to him our business, urging the release of our friend. The American chief told us he wanted land. We agreed to give him some on the west side of the Mississippi; likewise more on the Illinois side opposite Jefferson. When the business was all arranged we expected to have our friend released to come home with us. About the time we were ready to start our brother was let out of the prison. He started and ran a short distance when he was SHOT DEAD!"

     This was all they could remember of what had been said and done. It subsequently appeared that they had been drunk the greater part of the time while at St. Louis.

     This was all myself and nation knew of the treaty of 1804. It has since been explained to me. I found by that treaty, that all of the country east of the Mississippi, and south of Jefferson was ceded to the United States for one thousand dollars a year. I will leave it to the people of the United States to say whether our nation was properly represented in this treaty? Or whether we received a fair compensation for the extent of country ceded by these four individuals?

     I could say much more respecting this treaty, but I will not at this time. It has been the origin of all our serious difficulties with the whites.

     Sometime after this treaty was made, a war chief with a party of soldiers came up in keel boats, encamped a short distance above the head of the Des Moines rapids, and commenced cutting timber and building houses. The news of their arrival was soon carried to all our villages, to confer upon which many councils were held. We could not understand the intention, or comprehend the reason why the Americans wanted to build houses at that place. We were told that they were a party of soldiers, who had brought great guns with them, and looked like a war party of whites.

     A number of people immediately went down to see what was going on, myself among them. On our arrival we found that they were building a fort. The soldiers were busily engaged in cutting timber, and I observed that they took their arms with them when they went to the woods. The whole party acted, as they would do in an enemy's country. The chiefs held a council with the officers, or head men of the party, which I did not attend, but understood from them that the war chief had said that they were building houses for a trader who was coming there to live, and would sell us goods very cheap, and that the soldiers were to remain to keep him company. We were pleased at this information and hoped that it was all true, but we were not so credulous as to believe that all these buildings were intended merely for the accommodation of a trader. Being distrustful of their intentions, we were anxious for them to leave off building and go back down the river.

     By this time a considerable number of Indians had arrived to see what was doing. I discovered that the whites were alarmed. Some of our young men watched a party of soldiers, who went out to work, carrying their arms, which were laid aside before they commenced. Having stolen quietly to the spot they seized the guns and gave a wild yell! The party threw down their axes and ran for their arms, but found them gone, and themselves surrounded. Our young men laughed at them and returned their weapons.

     When this party came to the fort they reported what had been done, and the war chief made a serious affair of it. He called our chiefs to council inside his fort. This created considerable excitement in our camp, every one wanting to know what was going to be done. The picketing which had been put up, being low, every Indian crowded around the fort, got upon blocks of wood and old barrels that they might see what was going on inside. Some were armed with guns and others with bows and arrows. We used this precaution; seeing that the soldiers had their guns loaded and having seen them load their big guns in the morning.

     A party of our braves commenced dancing and proceeded up to the gate with the intention of going in, but were stopped. The council immediately broke up, the soldiers with their guns in hands rushed out from the rooms where they had been concealed. The cannon were hauled to the gateway, and a soldier came running with fire in his hand, ready to apply the match. Our braves gave way and retired to the camp. There was no preconceived plan to attack the whites at that time, but I am of the opinion now that had our braves got into the fort all of the whites would have been killed, as were the British soldiers at Mackinac many years before.

     We broke up our camp and returned to Rock river. A short time afterward the party at the fort received reinforcements, among whom we observed some of our old friends from St. Louis.

     Soon after our return from Fort Madison runners came to our village from the Shawnee Prophet. He dispatched others to the village of the Winnebagoes, with invitations for us to meet him on the Wabash. Accordingly a party went from each village.

     All of our party returned, among whom came a prophet, who explained to us the bad treatment the different nations of Indians had received from the Americans, by giving them a few presents and taking their land from them.

     I remember well his saying: "If you do not join your friends on the Wabash, the Americans will take this very village from you!" I little thought then that his words would come true, supposing that he used these arguments merely to encourage us to join him, which we concluded not to do. He then returned to the Wabash, where a party of Winnebagoes had preceded him, and preparations were making for war. A battle soon ensued in which several Winnebagoes were killed. As soon as their nation heard of this battle, and that some of their people had been killed, they sent several war parties in different directions. One to the mining country, one to Prairie du Chien, and another to Fort Madison. The latter returned by our village and exhibited several scalps, which they had taken. Their success induced several parties to go against the fort. Myself and Several of my band joined the last party, and were determined to take the fort. We arrived in the vicinity during the night. The spies that we had sent out several days before to watch the movements of those at the garrison, and ascertain their numbers, came to us and gave the following information: "A keel arrived from below this evening with seventeen men. There are about fifty men in the fort and they march out every morning to exercise." It was immediately determined that we should conceal ourselves in a position as near as practicable to where the soldiers should come out, and when the signal was given each one was to fire on them and rush into the fort. With my knife I dug a hole in the ground deep enough that by placing a few weeds around it, succeeded in concealing myself. I was so near the fort that I could hear the sentinels walking on their beats. By daybreak I had finished my work and was anxiously awaiting the rising of the sun. The morning drum beat. I examined the priming of my gun, and eagerly watched for the gate to open. It did open, but instead of the troops, a young man came out alone and the gate closed after him. He passed so close to me that I could have killed him with my knife, but I let him pass unharmed. He kept the path toward the river, and had he gone one step from it, he must have come upon us and would have been killed. He returned immediately and entered the gate. I would now have rushed for the gate and entered it with him, but I feared that our party was not prepared to follow me.

     The gate opened again when four men emerged and went down to the river for wood. While they were gone another man came out, walked toward the river, was fired on and killed by a Winnebago. The others started and ran rapidly towards the fort, but two of them were shot down dead. We then took shelter under the river's bank out of reach of the firing from the fort.

     The firing now commenced from both parties and was kept up without cessation all day. I advised our party to set fire to the fort, and commenced preparing arrows for that purpose. At night we made the attempt, and succeeded in firing the buildings several times, but without effect, as the fire was always instantly extinguished.

     The next day I took my rifle and shot in two the cord by which they hoisted their flag, and prevented them from raising it again. We continued firing until our ammunition was expended. Finding that we could not take the fort, we returned home, having one Winnebago killed and one wounded during the siege.

     I have since learned that the trader, who lived in the fort, wounded the Winnebago while he was scalping the first man that was killed. The Winnebago recovered, and is now living, and is very friendly disposed towards the trader, believing him to be a great brave.

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